Ever since Physioprof wrote a post about how to write a sentence, I’ve wanted to write some posts about writing. I was mulling this over, and then DrMrA gave me this book by Stephen King entitled ‘On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft’. I’ve been enjoying this book (and occasionally laughing out loud) every morning from 7 – 8 am while I’m sweating my guts out in the gym. Despite the fact that the book is about writing fiction, so many of the fine Mr. King’s points can be applied to scientific writing as well. If you write anything more than a couple of words long-you must read this book.
It is going to take a bunch of posts to cover everything I want to say about writing. Some of them are going to be very simple and some are going to be more complex- I’ll try to break them down into parts small enough to chew. Just a warning- they are not going to come out in any particular order- and some will be inspired by Mr. King’s book. This last part is because in reading the book, I realize that I do many of the things mentioned (both good and bad) in my own writing.
First, I have favorite places (a la King) and times of the day that I can write papers and grants extremely productively. My three spots are: 1. In my bed with my knees supported by a pillow and the laptop in my lap when no one else is in the house (usually in the mornings of school days), 2. A local coffee shop that has a corner bar type thing and is generally pretty quiet except right at lunch, and 3. My office, but only between the hours of 5 and 10 pm – after everyone else is gone. When I’m really serious about getting the words to flow, I escape to one of these three places- and/or make deals with DrMrA so I can work freaky hours.
I think working in my office between 5 and 9 pm works the best for me. I like to listen to music while I work, and for some reason this works better when I’m wearing headphones. This helps me block out my surroundings and kind of get in the zone…. I have no idea why this works but it does. I’ve even got special playlists just for writing… yes, one for papers and one for grants… if you must know. I write in periods of about an hour, then I get up, walk around for a few minutes, get something to drink- and go at it again until I just feel dead tired.
Now, there are things I really enjoy writing, putting data in papers for example, and things that I have to drag myself to get done (cough *grant re-writes* cough….. cough *review articles* cough). I’d rather work on a paper about 1000x more than doing those other two – but I don’t have any special secrets for making the writing of the things I dread any more pleasant. I find I just have to sit down and grind it out either way. I do have a couple of co-PIs and co-authors that I enjoy writing with- because exchanging and editing each other’s work with the goal of improving the final product is extremely gratifying… even if the project itself was something that wasn’t my favorite to start with. It actually doesn’t matter to me if oceans of red pen cover text that I wrote, I’ve lost my pride about this long ago, and I’m equally good at dishing out the red pen.
So there you go- lesson #1- figure out where your temporal and spatial writing sweet spot is- then grit your teeth and go for it. If you are lucky enough to have mentors, co-authors or collaborators who are good writers and will edit for you- don’t be proud- cough up the text and give them the red pen!